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The youth vote and democratic reform

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Johannes Wheeldon writes an excellent piece in The Mark about engaging the youth vote and reinvigorating Canadian politics at the same time.

How Can Canada Entice Young Voters?

"While the potential of the youth vote is too often tinged with terms like "apathetic," "lazy," and "entitled," largely unexplored are the reasons why encouraging the youth vote matters. This is not a partisan political proposition -- either you believe in democracy or you don't..."

It's a sad state of affairs that Canada's antiquated and undemocratic voting system actually encourages political parties to discourage or even sometimes disenfranchise select voters as a tactic to win elections.

"Philosophically, it seems clear that there is a relationship between ignorance of Canadian history, lack of understanding about our system of governance, and the current era of declining voters. Voting is literally the least you can do to meet your responsibilities as a Canadian citizen. Yet, unless people feel their vote matters, they will not feel compelled to participate come election time."

More than 50 per cent of the votes in the last federal election went toward electing no one. More than 50 per cent of voters think that it requires a majority of votes to win an election. No wonder so many people, not just youth, say "why bother" (and not "who cares")? In my own case, I always vote and have never voted for a successful candidate in a federal election. I'm 50-plus. That "why bother" apathy is magnified by a profound and often earned distrust for politicians, parties and government who will say just about anything to get elected. Ignorance clouds voters from identifying what's really ailing them often resulting in emotional responses to manipulative marketing (like Rob Ford's "stop the gravy train").

As Wheeldon points out, pointing the finger at young people is a convenient distraction from tackling the root causes which are, of course, the responsiblity of the grown ups. He goes on to provide a to-do list of important steps including reducing the voting age, increased education and participation, and making it easier to register to vote.

I'll add another. Isn't it about time Canada had an enumeration of all voters? The permanent voters list is out of date and disadvantages those who aren't on the list already, especially young voters, immigrants and tenants. Elections Canada should do at least one enumeration every ten years.

My favorite piece of advice Wheeldon gives to the political parties is worth repeating in its entirety.

"Stop shying away from the real democratic renewal needed in Canada. It is time to think carefully and seriously about the costs of our winner-takes-all voting system, which is failing to provide real representation, ensure stable governance, or inspire confidence that working together works. There are many variants of proportional representation and the old arguments about instability and pizza parliaments seem quaint today. It's coalitions or Conservatives, Canada -– and our current system is making a mockery of meaningful democratic representation."

Democratic renewal, starting by giving every Canadian an equal and effective vote through a proportional voting system, is the number one game changer in Canadian electoral politics today. Until that's firmly on the agenda, all the rest, with the exception of election financing, are good ideas but they are just shuffling the deck chairs around on a sinking ship. For the older ones among us, voting reform is a legacy we can bequeath to future generations.

Reprinted from Catch 22 Harper Conservatives

How Can Canada Entice Young Voters?

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